Finishing a fabulous book series is always bittersweet. For more than three years, Cities of Refuge has taken us on a journey that brought us into Moriyah and Derek’s family, allowing us to get to know each of their children and friends as if they were our own. Usually, I cannot wait to devour a book, but, with Like Flames in the Night, I wanted to savor every minute and prolong the inevitable ending of this incredible series for as long as possible.
Tirzah grew up training alongside her brothers, Malakhi and Eitan, but after getting married, she took on the role as a wife in Biblical Israel. However, after her husband’s death, at the hands of the Arameans, a flame ignited inside of Tirzah that refused to be put out until she had played a role in her nation’s freedom!
Becoming a spy in enemy territories, Tirzah proves how essential women are during war. Fearlessly, Tirzah acquires information to be sent to her brothers while hidden under the guise of a servant girl.
Meanwhile, Liyam is traveling around Israel and its surrounding lands to avenge the tragic death of his daughter. Blinded by heartache and vengeance, Liyam’s heart has turned so cold that he cannot see how the Heavenly Father is directing his path to collide with Tirzah’s in her time of need!
Brought together by a commonality, Tirzah and Liyam must rely on one another to survive. The road is not easy, and each challenge will test their strengths in ways neither expected. A mission that began as one of justice will soon become a journey to redemption, restoration, faith, and unexpected love.
*Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me with a prerelease copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!
Q&A with Connilyn Cossette
How long does it take you to edit a book, and how do you begin?
The editing process is fairly complicated because there’s a lot that goes into my editing process from the beginning. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so it’s pretty difficult for me to write a messy copy and then leave it be. So I usually will write a scene and then edit it the next day before I move on to the next chapter. I will also often send my chapters to my writing partners which will usually require another round of editing and then once I’m finished with a manuscript I will do one more full edit before I sent it to my editors. Then there are three rounds of edits before it goes to print, one in which I read the entire book out loud to myself (or in the case of LFITN, my daughter). So all that to say, I can’t really pinpoint how long it takes a book to edit fully but once I turn in my manuscript to Bethany House it is about a year before it lands in your hands.
Who was your favorite character (or the one you most resonate with), and why?
In regards to the entire series, I would have to say Moriyah because I got to know her as a young girl and was able to follow her journey all the way through becoming a great-grandmother. She has been the foundation of all of the stories within the cities of refuge and she will just always be one of my very favorites. Don’t tell the others. For Like Flames in the Night, I’d have to say Liyam because he was just a blast to write, such fun to put through the wringer, and I just loved how his character arc developed!
Did anything surprise you in this story as you were writing?
I have to say that the length of the story was what most surprised me. There were no plans for it to be longer than the others but just due to the nature of the plot and also because I wanted to make sure that all the loose ends from the entire series were tied up in a satisfying way it ended up having a few chapters more. However, I hope that readers will be so absorbed in Tirzah and Liyam that they won’t even notice!
What are you hoping readers will glean from this story?
Tirzah’s story is one of standing up courageously for her people, her family, and her God. My hope is that readers will be inspired to shine their lights boldly for Jesus and to not be afraid of anything—be it human or spirit—because Yahweh is our champion and when we are out of strength and frightened and feeling alone the Word says that He will fight for us! Nothing can stand against our great big God. Also, I want readers to be reminded through Liyam’s journey how truly powerful grace is.
Any fun bits of trivia you want to share with readers?
I guess I would have to say that the first thing is that I never planned on writing this book at all. The original Cities of Refuge was a three-book series but when I got to the end of Until the Mountains Fall I felt like there was more story to be told within the time period and with this family. So I proposed the idea to Bethany House and thankfully they went for it! Also, the book discusses an altar that’s at the top of Mount Ebal in Israel and that altar has actually been found on top of that mountain. It’s most likely a later rebuild of the original altar and from what I read it looks like beneath the altar there are possible remnants of the altar that Joshua built when he and the entire congregation of Israel re-confirmed the covenant before he died. So that’s pretty cool! Someday I would really love to walk up that mountain and see that altar for myself.
This is your last book in the Cities of Refuge series, was there a specific plot or character you wanted to include before bringing the series to a close?
I think I really was just having a hard time leaving Moriyah and her whole entire family behind when I decided to write this book! But of course, I really wanted to explore Moriyah’s youngest daughter Tirzah’s perspective. I wondered what it would’ve been like to have grown up in the city of refuge, a place of complete safety in most cases, and then be kicked out and have to live somewhere else under the oppression of foreign invaders for eight years. Also, I was just really intrigued by the entire blank space there is in the Bible where Othniel is concerned and what his struggle against the Arameans might have looked like from the inside. And as advance readers already found out, there is a tie to the original Out from Egypt series in this book and I really wanted to explore connections there as well.
Why Cities of Refuge? Why not another story?
The easy answer is that because I was just fascinated. Once I started to do some reading about the cities of refuge, which I really didn’t know much about, I saw the beautiful way that they foreshadowed Jesus our Messiah who is the perfect balance of grace and justice for his people and I just wanted to delve into those characteristics of God so I thought that the cities of refuge was a perfect vehicle to do so! Besides, I’d just fallen in love with Moryiah in Wings of the Wind and felt she needed a story too. Who knew what would come of it all when I was struggling over whether to brand that poor girl’s face!
What inspired the idea for this story?
When I was in Israel a couple of years ago we went to a place called the Ayalon Institute. It was actually a kibbutz (like a co-op farm) that contained an entire underground bullet factory hidden from the British and the Arabs before the 1948 war. They secretly crawled down ladders beneath a commercial laundry room because it was noisy and could cover up the sound of the bullet making machines and many of the people who lived and worked on the kibbutz had no idea what was going on under their feet! Over a number of years, this group of young people managed to make thousands and thousands of bullets and ship them out through covert means, like in milk trucks. Without their sacrifice and ingenuity, the nation of Israel might have been lost when the Arabs attacked en mass. I was enthralled by the stories of miracles that happened during this time and how these young people, men AND women stood up for their people so courageously. I was inspired by this short visit to the underground bunker to write about brave men and women who put their lives on the line for the nation of Israel, both in ancient times and in modern ones. So as you will see as you read, there are a number of places where I talk about covert operations and secret weapons-making and those were directly inspired by that tour of the Ayalon Institute. Malakhi and Eitan would have loved everything about it. Look it up, it’s fascinating!
Has your relationship with God changed at all through writing these stories? If so, could you share an example?
I would say that my faith is so much more real now. All the study of history and culture and archaeology that I have done has given me such confirmation that His hand has worked through history in such an intimate way, tying all the billions of threads together from Genesis to Revelation. The fact that he has led me on such a personal path of discovery just reminds me how much he wants me to love him with my heart, my soul, AND my mind. And the Cities of Refuge series, in particular, has illuminated his grace so clearly in my own life, especially looking backward and seeing how he led me lovingly to himself, even when I was so rebellious and self-centered that I could not look past my own nose, and called me to write stories that glorify his Name.
What was writing the Cities of Refuge series like? Emotionally and intellectually?
Wow, that is a tough question because it really has been a few years since I started and I have been through a lot of life in the meantime. I have been through two cross country moves since then and my kids are now teenagers! I will say that there were times when it was a struggle and I really had to force myself to write because I was fighting against my doubts, fighting against my overwhelming schedule, and fighting my own perfectionism, but it is so cool to look back at these four books and realize that through all those struggles God did something extraordinary with my very human, imperfect efforts. He has led me on an amazing journey that taught me how to be a better writer, how to be a better storyteller, and how to dig deeper into my own wounds in order to make a book connect with readers on a deeper level. And being able to write about how God displayed his perfect balance of grace and justice through the Cities of Refuge has been a privilege.
How does it feel saying goodbye to characters you’ve been with for so long?
It is really so bittersweet because I feel like these people are part of my family and I know them inside and out. So it kind of feels like I’m abandoning them in some way. But they’re always there waiting for me and maybe someday I’ll have a chance to come back and revisit them. And then again I’m also really excited to find new characters and discover their journeys and now that I’m writing this new series I’m having a great time creating a whole new set of people, discovering what makes them tick, and finding all sorts of disastrous and dangerous situations to put them into peril and complicated situations to mess with their heads. I’m kinda evil like that 😉
What are your favorite triggers to get in “creative mode,” something that gets your imagination going?
I have learned over the years that I have to have a perfect solitude when I write. I cannot listen to music because it distracts my musical mind too much and I want to follow chord changes and lyrics, so I’ve learned that the best thing to keep myself isolated is to listen to brown noise. That way I can just block out everything around me and lose myself in the story. I’ve also found that writing or brainstorming by hand can be a huge jumpstart to my imagination because it uses a different part of my brain. If I get stuck other creative things help too: coloring, singing, drawing, doodling, or just chatting with my writing pals about what might come next! Oh, and coffee always helps.
Do you seek out a spiritual theme for each book before you draft, crafting the plot around it? Or does it come to you later as you edit and weave in a theme?
That really is different with every book. There are times when I know going in exactly what the spiritual theme is going to be; like with Until the Mountains Fall which was about a prodigal daughter. But there are times when it takes me almost the entire writing of the book to really figure out what it is the characters are trying to say and what it is the Lord is weaving into my story. And there are times when I may know the spiritual journey of one of the main characters but not the other and it untangles itself as I learn who the characters are together, what their wounds are, what their goals are, etc. There have actually been times when I thought it was one spiritual theme and then it completely surprised me by turning into another by the time I was done.
What do you want your readers to know about you?
That I am just a simple girl who loves Jesus and loves to write stories and is absolutely delighted that anyone would want to get to know her imaginary friends. I am beyond blessed to get to hang out in my pajamas and make up stories all day long and somehow people out there want to read them. I am still pinching myself that this is my life!
What inspires you to write about the specific biblical characters that you choose to focus your books on?
It’s usually because I want to know more about that character or about that time period for my own personal understanding of the Word and to know God’s character better through those journeys. I just love learning about the Bible and about the people who witnessed those events and revel in darting down historical rabbit trails. And I love to let my imagination run wild and see what kind of fictional people I can tangle up with those who actually did walk this earth and experienced the stories we think we know so well.
What do you have coming up next? Tell us a little bit about it and when we can expect it.
I will be coming out with a new series this winter which is called the Covenant House series. We are skipping forward a few hundred years to First Samuel in a time when Israel was in a fierce struggle against the Philistines, a foreign people that had arrived on the shores of Israel from the island of Crete hundreds of years before. This is a duology, based on the lives of a Philistine sister and brother who are adopted into an Israelite family and begins with the theft of the Ark of the Covenant. The first book is called To Dwell Among Cedars and will be releasing December 1 of this year.